Every month, several alien species are introduced in new ecosystems where they threaten biodiversity. Non-native, exotic species, be it a giant Hippopotamus or an amphibian Cane Toad, can wreak havoc on the environment, ecology, and economy in their new homes.
Alien species may alter habitats, predate on or compete with native fauna or be important vectors of diseases and parasites. The hardy, fast-growing creatures with few or no natural predators in the new home bully the native flora and fauna to the point of extinction. Several carnivore species like the American mink, raccoon, and raccoon dog were brought to Europe for their valuable fur or to become pets in the black market.
Though the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) resembles North American raccoons, it is the closest relative of the Canidae family’s true foxes. The stumpy grayish-black raccoon dog, indigenous to East Asia, has established itself in sub-tropical regions of Northern and Eastern Europe.
When we think about the cacophony of noise in the environment, we rarely consider military noise pollution and often overlook its toll on humans and animals. Throughout the military service, noisy equipment and processes expose all military personnel and servicemen to hazardous noise levels that pose the risk of ear damage or permanent hearing loss. The constant noises not only wreak havoc on our auditory systems, but it also affects wildlife in their natural environment, from disrupting their communication and hunting abilities to mating.
Hibernation is a common phenomenon in the animal kingdom and occurs in over 200 species. Species that can hibernate and survive at low temperatures with only food (fat) reserves stored in their body have been fascinating scientists for years. Most species, like the female black bear, can even give birth and lactate while they're in torpor, which a form of hibernation.
Then, there is the Arctic ground squirrel (Urocitellus parryii) that has intrigued many scientists for its supercooling type of hibernation. Native to the icy tundra where temperatures dip below zero, the sun barely breaks the horizon, and trees struggle to take root in the icy soil, the arctic squirrel retreats into one meter-deep burrows.
The five major Mass Extinctions around 65 million years ago that wiped over three-quarters of the planet’s species is old news now, and we made peace with the fact that “nothing lasts forever.” Species are bound to go extinct, as proposed by Charles Darwin. It is part of the evolutionary life cycle to adapt to diverse ecological niches on the Earth. The extinction of one or more species favors the evolution of other species.
What is alarming is that we are dealing with another Mass Extinction for which we are responsible. Scientists are calling it the Anthropocene Extinction, because it is caused by anthropogenic factors.
The cane toad, exotically known as Rhinella marina, is a large, non-native amphibian introduced into Australia in 1935. Native to South and Central America, Giant toads are viewed as invasive species in Florida and Australia. They are poisonous to animals that try to devour them.
Not every non-native species introduced in a new region is invasive. They are labeled as invasive only when they compete with native flora and fauna for resources and alter or damage the ecosystem. Cane toads are invasive as they outnumber the native fauna with their breeding and insatiable appetite.
Ocean acidification is frequently interpreted as the evil twin of climate change. For about three centuries, there has been an unnatural spike in carbon dioxide concentrations in our oceans. There’s more of it in the atmosphere than there was in the last 20 million years. This comes from human-based sources mostly. Fossil fuel refineries, fossil-based power plants, industries, land-use changes, and transportation are the main outlets of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide gas. These unbridled carbon dioxide emissions are responsible for ocean acidification.
Oceans cover two-thirds of the earth's surface and absorb about one-quarter of the carbon dioxide. Oceans help sustain life on earth. They are the home to oxygen-generating phytoplankton, kelp, and algae. They also provide nutrients and maintain food webs as well as support the fish and tourism industry, absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide, and regulate the climate.
The emblem of the Tasmanian state, the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), is the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world. It is found on the island of Tasmania, Australia. Fossil evidence suggests that it once occupied the entire Australian mainland some 3,000 years ago. “Devil” was attributed to these animals for their appearance and otherworldly/unearthly screeches at night. These sounds are reflective of fear rather than aggression, however.
About the size of the dog, these red-eared devilish creatures can devour medium to large-sized mammals as well as invertebrates with their wide jaws and sharp teeth. However, they serve their ecological role more like scavengers than predators. They feed on carcasses. The nocturnal animal lives in solitary, changing dens every third day of the week, and can travel about 6 miles at night.
The fact that human-induced emissions have largely contributed to climate change, is overwhelmingly endorsed by researchers and scientists. This has led countries to introduce and implement stringent environmental regulations and taxes. The ever-present emissions of greenhouse gases are expanding planetary temperature graphs, thawing glaciers and permafrost, changing atmospheric circulations and precipitation patterns, increasing sea-levels, washing out coral reefs, and affecting flora and fauna biodiversity in terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems.
These changes in environmental processes are responsible for the collateral damage of the infrastructure, the agricultural productivity, and the economy. However, these socio-economic costs are not considered in the prices for energy commodities. Thus, legislations like the carbon dividend act are the blueprint to mitigate the looming climate crisis. Carbon pricing provides strong market incentives for emission reductions and alternative energy resources.
Mining sites have considerably increased in number worldwide with the high demand for valuable minerals and geological materials. The non-renewable products are mined on large-scale that cannot be fabricated artificially. These naturally exhaustible resources are now an everyday commodity. We interact with minerals, including the calcite from our toothpaste, phosphate in fertilizer, gold and diamonds in our jewels, copper in wires, and plastics from fossil fuels.
The mine project, Pebble Mine, is aimed at the extraction of precious metals like gold and toxic metals like copper. Copper is of real concern, since it is widely used in wiring, electric appliances, medical instruments, solar panels, wind turbines, and various other infrastructure developments. However, it is not the only mineral that is extracted in the United States.
Columbia is worth seeing for its golden, palm-fringed beaches, lofty, snow-covered mountains, dense tropical rainforests, and scenic lakes. However, wild hippos are now a sight for sore eyes in the Magdalena River of Columbia, thanks to notorious camel Pablo Escobar.
From Burmese Python in Florida to wild boars in Texas, European Starlings of the U.S to wild hippos of Colombia; invasive species have made whole ecosystems go haywire.
“An invasive species is a non-native organism that causes ecological or socio-economic damage in a new environment”.
These species muscle out native flora and fauna, competing for resources and territories and thus reducing biodiversity and altering habitats.
Of the invasive species introduced by humans, Columbian hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibius) date back to their exporter, cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Native to Sub-Saharan Africa, these third-largest land mammals are not only relocating native Colombian animals but also altering the water channels and water quality.